Kalaheo Builds Strong Defense

During his own playing days, Kalaheo’s player-turned-coach Alika Smith was known as a prolific scorer, but he also guarded the other team’s best player on the defensive end.

With that in mind, Smith has a special appreciation for Mustang seniors Derick Morgan and Shem Sukumaran.

“The old cliché that defense wins championships holds true,” said Smith. “It all starts on the defensive end. Lately, we’ve been doing a great job, defensively. Derick is one of the best — if not the best — defenders that I’ve seen in a long time. He has the want to guard the other team’s best player, and it’s the same with Shem. Those two set the tone for us each and every game.”

Kalaheo, which was to close out its OIA basketball season on Monday versus Kaiser, gave up an average of just 33.8 points through its first eight games. The Mustangs hope to continue their stellar defensive play this week when the OIA Red tournament begins. (Pairings were to be revealed after press time.) Kalaheo seeks to win back-to-back OIA (and state) titles — albeit in different divisions. The

Mustangs won both the OIA and Division II state championships last year before being promoted to Division I in the off-season.

Dating back to last season, the team has gone 48-10 overall, including pre- season games.

Only the flu bug has undermined Kalaheo’s momentum this year, but Smith expects his full roster to be at 100 percent for the post-season. “For a week-and-a-half, we had seven or eight guys at practice, sometimes a different seven or eight. Silila Tucker and Kalani Green are two who have played really well in the absence of others. We had a lot of kids step up.

Now that we’re healthy again, we’re looking forward to the home stretch.” Kalaheo’s starting lineup consists of Josh Ko (8.7 points per game), Kupaa Harrison, Kalei Zuttermeister (8.9 ppg) in addition to Sukumaran and Morgan (team-leading 11 ppg).

Veteran leadership and the ability to dictate the pace through their defense have been big reasons for their success, according to Smith. “Anytime you get into a five-on-five in a half-court set, it is going to be tough to score,” he said. “We’re best when we get steals and create havoc and get into the open floor. We have a veteran group — they’ve been through the battles — and they understand that sometimes we have to grind it out and get stop after stop after stop (on the defensive end).”